The last few times I have walked down Nostrand Avenue south of Empire in East Flatbush, there seems to be many more Haitian restaurants and bakeries than in years past. The neighborhood has been home to the Haitian community in Brooklyn for some time, but their exposure only seems to be growing. I came to the neighborhood a couple times earlier this year to do research for the Copa America interest in the community, and left with a long list of places to try. With the recent devastation of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, this list needed a few boxes checked to start a small flow of cash in the right direction.
Dana Caribbean Cuisine is like a lot of others in the area, a no frills establishment with a steam table of dishes rotating daily. There are three tables for customers to eat at, one of which was occupied by a friendly man gazing out toward the street when we came. As no one was visible behind the counter, he gave a yell towards the kitchen and a smiling chef came out to greet us. She gave us the list of foods that had been prepared and we made our order.
Stepping outside to take a street photo, the man revealed himself as the proprietor, opening the gates which initially had covered the windows and made us wonder if they were open when we walked over from the train. Some other patrons stop in to pick up a large catering order that had already been prepared. Another orders takeout. The rhythm is slow but steady, thoroughly enjoyable.
Meal portions come in small, medium, and large sizes which cost $7, $9, and $12 respectively. From past experiences, the small portion is always everything but small. It is usually difficult to resist the griot (below), fried pork chunks served with pikliz. This of course is creole for pickles and is a combination of cabbage, carrots, and peppers that has been pickled. Garlic also makes the marinade and the vinegar is laced with spicy pepper.
The griot, like the chicken below, was fried and completely dry on the outside. The skill of the chef is revealed when you bite into a piece of either meat though, revealing juicy tender flesh just waiting to fall off its bones. In addition, the rice and beans (diri kole ak pwa) here is divine, especially when the small cup of salty, oily gravy is combined with it. On our next visit, we will try blé, which is a Haitian bulgar wheat available as the starch if rice is not desired.
While it does have similarities with other Caribbean cuisines, Haitian food is usually more fragrant with herbs and can definitely pull more punches when it comes to spice levels. It is starting to make the jump to more upscale restaurants in other parts of Brooklyn as well, although we always love coming to these mom and pop shops.